Energy Versus Environment The Arctic Dilemma

CIM Bulletin, 1971

D. J. McLAREN, Director, Inst. of Sedimentary and Petroleum Geology, Geological Survey of Canada, Calgary, Alberta

Arctic Canada is one of the largest undeveloped terrains remaining in the world, and is in many ways unique. The ecological balance of the region is more delicate than tropical or temperate regions of similar size. This region is likely to be developed by research for and production of resources, primarily petroleum, in the immediate future. As well as sensitive terrain surface caused by permafrost in some areas, many large and small mammals and birds are also in a delicate balance with the environment. Small changes in this balance can have large effects. The probability of finding petroleum in different regions varies widely, but already there are good indications on the mainland and in the Islands that both oil and gas are present. Geophysical work in the offshore, particularly the Beaufort Sea, suggests further promising potential. Possible reserves in the Islands and mainland Arctic ma ~ amount to 50 or more billion barrels. A responsible approach to problems facing exploitation in an Arctic environment includes the careful monitoring by industry of likely effects of their activities. The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Research Association test loop at Inuvik provides an example of such monitoring. Outside Canada, the operations at Prudhoe Bay on the north coast of Alaska show how major companies may operate responsibly and reduce environmental interference to a minim'.::at. Nevertheless, four variables must affect any decisions to be made concerning energy resource exploitation in the Arctic. These are man's need for energy, economic and industrial pressures to develop energy sources, the desire to preserve a deteriorating environment, and the role of government as representing all individuals in the country and their several points of view. Factors that must be taken into account in making any decisions include the importance of Canadian oil in a world picture, the need for alternative sources of energy in the near future, the depletion of nonrenewable resources at an accelerating rate and the increasing awareness that the major problems facing man have no direct technical solution and that social or political decisions must precede further technological development.
Keywords: Arctic, Arctic Coast, Beaufort Sea, Geological Survey of Canada, permafrost, Prudhoe Bay, Canada, Canadian, energy, Environment, Oil, Oils, Petroleum, Reserves